Courtesy Cheryl Miles

Makes 3 loaves
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This banana bread recipe is inspired by the Malay muffin-like dessert harum manis. “Harum” is Malay for “fragrance” while “manis” means “sweet”. The traditional recipe uses gula melaka palm sugar, pandan leaves and cake flour and like most Asian cakes, harum manis is steamed – not baked. 

However, this modern version tastes amazing both ways. Baking gives this fluffy banana bread a more caramelised flavour, while steaming it makes it more moist – so it’s your choice.

This delicious recipe is by Cheryl Miles, Radio DJ on ONE FM 91.3. She’s also the author of a series of cookbooks including “Smitten in the Kitchen, 60 Recipes for Love”. You’ll find this recipe, along with others, on her website here


  • 1½ cup granulated palm sugar (or shave off chunks of palm sugar)
  • 1½ cup water
  • 3 pandan leaves (optional)
  • 50 g butter, plus more for greasing
  • 2½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsps baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 4 bananas, mashed
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 2 bananas, sliced thinly for the topping
  • ½ cup walnut or unsalted peanut pieces, plus a handful more for the topping

In a saucepan, boil one and a half cups of water with pandan leaves and palm sugar or gula melaka. Stir to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Add butter. Turn the fire off. Set aside and allow to cool.


In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add salt to the sifted flour.


Mash four bananas in a small bowl with a fork. Stir in vanilla extract and set aside.


In a mixing bowl,  use an electric mixer to beat the eggs and white sugar until they are super fluffy and light yellow. Next, fold in half the flour mixture. Stir to combine. Fold in the rest of the flour and stir again. Add in mashed bananas.


Pour in the palm sugar and butter mixture a third at a time. Mix it all up until you get a smooth batter. Thinly slice two bananas. Grease your moulds, baking tin or loaf pan with some butter. Pour in the batter halfway. Top with banana slices & bits of walnut.


You can choose to steam or bake this banana bread. Place in a steamer for 1 hr or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before cutting in or the consistency will be more like pudding. Or bake in the oven at 180 C (360 F) for 45 mins. This produces a more caramelized flavour than the steamed version, but both are fluffy, moist and light.

TIP If you can’t find gula melaka or palm sugar, you can use brown sugar. But they have different levels of sweetness, so adjust the amount of sugar: 1½ cup granulated palm sugar is equal in sweetness to 200 g gula melaka or 1 cup brown sugar.

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